Archive For The “Christmas in Florida” Category
St Augustine in December — The Perfect Time of Year!
As Floridians, one cannot presumptuously expect cooler temperatures simply because we’ve flipped the page on our calendars to December. Grass is still green, flowers abundantly seen, palm trees remain queen, and yes… beach babes (lean and mean) are still applying that coconut sunscreen! Sound like Christmas? Not exactly!
Okay, so we may be seasonally challenged here in the Sunshine State, but annually my mind goes on a mission to somehow duplicate (or find a reasonable facsimile) of that ‘Northern’ Christmas spirit I took for granted for 42 years. I’m happy to report the lost has been found in a charming little Southern City called Saint Augustine.
Welcome to the First Coast — The Oldest City in Our Nation
Located in Florida’s northeast corner, and just 45 minutes south of Jacksonville, is our nation’s oldest city — Saint Augustine. It was founded in 1565 by the Spanish, and is also the oldest port in the continental United States.
St. Augustine’s narrow cobblestone streets are best explored by foot. In fact, our vehicle was valet-parked in our hotel for 4 days and we didn’t need it until check-out! Self-guided and ‘themed’ walking tours abound, everything from notable historic sites to ghostly tales. The lodging of choice for many visitors to Saint Augustine is the plethora of charming and romantic bed and breakfast inns. And, of course, the Spanish Colonial Architecture adds to the romantic atmosphere and is a photographers dream-come-true!
Historic Casa Monica Hotel — Romance Revisited!
Saint Augustine was the culmination of a 6-city east coast trek celebrating our 25th Wedding Anniversary. We love the Florida coast anytime of year, but as the weather plummeted from the mid-eighties to high-sixties St. Augustine became even more charming. There, it was easy to lose ourselves in the history of the ‘Old City’ as we explored the enchanting, walkable neighborhoods. Our hotel, The Casa Monica, was located in the center of the quaint historic district and only a few blocks away from fabulous fine-dining options, beautiful Matanzas Bay, art galleries, nightlife, and sensational little unique shops all decked out for the season.
At the historic Casa Monica Hotel you will experience Moorish-style grandeur in an 1888 property that was once owned by railroad tycoon Henry Flagler. (Mr. Flagler developed much of Florida’s eastern coast.) Here’s a link to view Casa Monica rates and availability.
Photo Tour — Opulent Casa Monica Hotel
Here, romance can blossom at any old time!
Vittles and Vino VIP Carriage Tour!
Eat, Drink, and Be Merry!
The Vittles and Vino VIP Carriage Tour is one of many tours offered by The Tasting Tours Company in St. Augustine. What a fantastic gift for our 25th Wedding Anniversary! I’m not surprised Travel and Leisure Magazine ranked The Tasting Tours #1 in the best activities to do in St. Augustine. For the ‘foodie’ in your family, I highly recommend this award-winning tour as a unique special occasion gift that the recipient will fondly recall for a lifetime. The selection of food and beverage outlets vary with each tour, but you can check out The Tasting Tours slideshow below to see what delectable morsels I had.
Our Tour Included:
3.5 hours of food and wine
5 food tasting venues (at 5 different restaurants in the historic district)
4 wine sample venues (including a wine tasting to begin the tour and a bottle to enjoy on the carriage ride or take home)
A fun and informative guided tour (Jennifer, our tour guide was the best! And our carriage driver was a wealth of knowledge regarding all the historical facts of the city)
This was a delightful way to spend a Saturday afternoon, and we were not hungry again until very late that night. No dinner was necessary, just a bedtime snack!
Okay, so we didn’t go dashing through the snow, but we were in a one-horse open carriage. And, after the second or third stop on the tour, we were most certainly laughing all the way! I don’t remember any bells on bob-tails ringing… but they could have been, by then our spirits were very bright!
TIP: If you’re considering traveling to St. Augustine in the near future, check out the current available tasting tours here. Book early, as they tend to fill up fast!
Tis the Season to Be Jolly — Food, New Friends & Folly on Our Tasting Tour!
The Tasting Tours
Ranked in the Top 20 Best Overall Food Tours in the U.S.
Annual Christmas Tour of Homes
Presented by The Garden Club of St. Augustine
One of my favorite things to do in any city is a Tour of Homes. In St. Augustine the Christmas Tour of Homes is an annual tradition that typically sells out pretty fast. Tickets go on sale in early October, and it’s best to purchase them well in advance, as we did.
Our Tour of Homes included six private residences. Three of them were located in the Military District, along the beautiful Matanzas River. We toured the homes of Major General Emmett Titshaw, Colonel Perry Hagaman, and Colonel Joseph Duren. Another highlight for me was the former Kirkside Estate, winter home of Henry Flagler. It was a special treat personally meeting the owners of each home who graciously paused for photos upon my request. Our Tour of Homes concluded with Tea and Cookies, a Unique Boutique, and a Raffle at the Memorial Presbyterian Church, a St. Augustine historic landmark. In fact, Henry Flagler and several relatives were laid to rest in a mausoleum on the church grounds.
For five fantastic hours on a Sunday afternoon in St. Augustine I felt like I was ‘home’ for Christmas. Each home had their own version of snow, mistletoe, and presents under the tree. Okay… so I wasn’t really home for Christmas — but I was in my dreams!
St. Augustine Holiday Tour of Homes — Photo Tour
- Photo Album Tour of Homes – 2016
Are you ready for some new decorating ideas? Grab a cup of eggnog or hot mulled cider, have your notebook handy, sit back and enjoy the slideshows from the 2016 St. Augustine Christmas Tour of Homes!
Top 10 in the World!
Saint Augustine’s Nights of Lights was named by National Geographic
as one of the Top 10 places in the world to see holiday lights!
St. Augustine Nights of Lights
National Geographic magazine included Saint Augustine’s Nights of Lights in its list of the ten best places in the world to see holiday lighting displays. That’s pretty impressive, considering they’re competing with places like Vienna, Copenhagen, Brussels, Callaway Gardens, Gothenburg, and Madrid. If you only visit St. Augustine once in your life, make sure it’s during the annual Nights of Lights!
Like everything in St. Augustine, the Nights of Lights has its roots in history. During the 250 years that St. Augustine served as the capital of Spanish Florida, residents would put a lighted candle in their window to commemorate the holiday season. Real candles have turned to electric, but they’re still white, and just as dazzling to behold as they decorate the old buildings. The entire historic district is lit with some three million white lights, an amazing holiday spectacle to see.
This year, you can view the Nights of Lights every night from November 18, 2017 to January 31, 2018. There are eight different ways to view the Nights of Lights display; a self-guided walking tour (free), Old Town Trolly Tours, Ripley’s Red Train, by boat with Florida Water Tours, St. Augustine Eco Tours, Gold Tours private small bus, and Helicopter Tours of St. Augustine. Whether you choose to view this holiday tradition by land, air, or sea… you will not be disappointed! Here’s a convenient link to make reservations for any of the tours — Nights of Lights advance reservations.
TIP: I’ve saved the best for last. One of the most romantic ways to see St. Augustine’s Nights of Lights is a private carriage ride. You can view rates and availability here — Nights of Lights Private Carriage Tour.
Celebrate the Holiday Season in St. Augustine
St. Augustine ranks at the top of my list for romantic getaways. And when you couple that with the annual Nights of Lights, there’s no better place in Florida to celebrate the holidays. This sleepy little Spanish town (technically, it’s a city, but it has more of a small town feel) is dripping in romance. What once was a winter playground for the rich and famous, can now be experienced by anyone with a passion for history, culture, and romance. The spirit of the Flagler Golden Era can be felt in every nook and cranny of this place. St. Augustine exudes a bygone era of grace and casual elegance that will forever be a part of this ancient city’s heritage.
St. Augustine is like the charm of Europe on the coast of Florida! There’s no other place in America like it! If you’re looking for a memorable romantic holiday, St. Augustine is sure to add another chapter to your never-ending love story.
Have you been to St. Augustine, America’s oldest city, during the holidays? Please share your favorite memory with our readers in the “comment” box below!
Christmas Tree Trail Debuts at Disney Springs
What could be better than the newly redesigned Disney Springs? The new Disney Springs at Christmas, of course! As a long-time Florida resident, I look forward to seeing the dazzling decorations at the Disney theme parks and upscale hotels every year. It’s a holiday highlight for me. I’m especially excited when they change something or add a new element to an already fabulous festive celebration. Everything the ‘Mouse’ does is mammoth, so I fully expected the new Christmas Tree Trail at Disney Springs to be another over-the-top dramatic display of awesomeness!
But, brilliant it wasn’t. It’s a rare occasion that I’m disappointed by anything Disney does, but these Disney-designed displays were anything but remarkable. Nothing extraordinary here; in fact, the Christmas Tree Trail was quite ordinary! Perhaps I’m just spoiled by the likes of the 45-foot-tall holiday tree in the lobby of Disney’s Grand Floridian Hotel, or the myriad of other awe-inspiring trees spread throughout Disney properties. Or maybe the memory of the breathtaking presentation of the Festival of Trees at the Orlando Museum of Art was too fresh in my mind. Maybe. But given the spectacular transformation of Downtown Disney into Disney Springs, whereby the metamorphosis was no less miraculous than watching a beautiful butterfly evolve from a caterpillar, I envisioned an unforgettable inauguration performance by the trees on the trail. Not an unreasonable expectation from the Disney decorating-Divas, right?
15 Different Disney-themed Trees
The holiday enhancement to the newly redesigned Disney Springs Marketplace area is a free (I know, the words Disney and free usually don’t jive!) walk-through experience that consists of fifteen trees, each one inspired by a different Disney character or story. Here’s a list of the ones that received a starring role in the Christmas Tree Trail premiere:
- Mickey and Minnie Mouse
- Beauty and the Beast
- The Princess and the Frog
- The Little Mermaid
- Mary Poppins
- The Jungle Book
- 101 Dalmatians
- Alice in Wonderland
- The Muppets
- And… one with no name! Perhaps Moana??? I don’t know; take a look and tell us what you think it is!
Christmas Tree Trail Photo Tour
Christmas Tree Trail: Perfect Backdrop for Holiday Photo Cards
It’s not that my time spent touring the Christmas Tree Trail was bad, it just wasn’t grand. The trees were done on a much smaller scale than I expected. Most of them were about the size of my own Christmas tree; 7 – 7 1/2 feet. I thought the themes were great, and the decorations were nice, but most of them looked like typical Disney ornaments that can be purchased in almost any Disney gift shop. (Hmmm, suddenly I might see a connection here! A monumental marketing ploy if that’s true.) Usually Disney holiday trees are quite elaborate — one-of-a-kind masterpieces that you wouldn’t expect to see anywhere else. And very difficult to duplicate. But with a brief visit to the Days of Christmas shop or the popular World of Disney store you can replicate any tree that you’ve seen here, without a degree in interior design.
Another surprising element of the Christmas Tree Trail was the accessibility of the trees. There was nothing around the perimeter of the trees to keep people (and curious kids) from touching them or handling the decorations. I noticed that smaller children really seemed to enjoy the trees. And since there were no boundaries protecting them, families were able to capture group photos while holding the trees on their lap (well, almost!). Perhaps the trees were meant to be interacted with. I didn’t see any “Do not touch” signs or “You break it, you bought it” threats.
*TIP… The trees make a beautiful backdrop for a family photo, perfect for those holiday photo cards. Plan a family photo session in front of each one, then pick your favorite! (Unlike the theme parks, I didn’t see the presence of official Disney photographers, but someone is always willing to snap a picture of you and your family if you ask them.)
During our stroll through the Christmas Tree Trail we were able to enjoy a light ‘snowfall,’ Florida style! The artificial snow is a nice attempt to make the experience a little more ‘magical.’ Far from a blizzard or white-out, it did succeed at causing our hair, glasses, and nose to become snow covered (or should I say “soap covered?”) The day we attended was quite chilly, by Florida standards. The high temperature on that Sunday afternoon in mid-November was only in the 60’s, with a sustained wind that made it feel much colder. (I know, we’re so spoiled here in the Sunshine State!) So, for a brief moment, I envisioned I was back home for the holidays. The faux snow gently falling, along with Christmas music playing in the background (another [pleasant] surprise, as that’s not always politically correct anymore) created a wonderful feel-good wintry moment for my senses. I can’t help myself!
Christmas Tree Trail Photography Tip
Disney advertises live toy soldiers, singers, and a full slate of other additions to the Christmas Tree Trail experience but I didn’t see any of that. I chose to view the trees during the day, as most nighttime photos I’ve seen make it difficult to see the decorations. (I don’t use professional nighttime camera lenses.) And, Disney uses an over-abundance of ‘blue’ spotlights which turns every tree into an icy blue color.
*TIP… For the best photos, I would recommend viewing the trees during daylight hours. Then, if time allows, do another walk-through after dark, to experience the nighttime effects and maybe shoot a short video or two. I doubt you’ll see girls in white dresses with blue satin sashes, but you may capture snowflakes that stay on your nose and eyelashes!
A fun way to put a cherry on top of your Christmas Tree Trail tour is a visit to Aristocrepes. Here, you can purchase a Gingerbread Pumpkin Crepe and gourmet hot chocolate. (A kiosk with warm roasted chestnuts and hot mulled cider would have caused me to linger a little longer!) These are special foodie items that are only available during the holiday season, which lasts until January 8, 2017 at Disney Springs.
I’m not sure I would recommend a special trip to Disney Springs for the sole purpose of seeing the Christmas Tree Trail, but if you’re already there, then by all means take a minute to view the trees. They’re a little out-of-the-way, at the far end of the complex, so they are easily missed. The trees are located in the Marketplace section, where the old Downtown Disney bus stop used to be. On the way, plan a stop at World of Disney which is all decked out for the holidays. With over 50,000 items, it’s the world’s largest assortment of Disney merchandise! Splurge on a holiday hat or deck your neck with those infamous Christmas bulb light-up necklaces. With a little forced effort, you’ll be in the yule mood sporting a holly jolly Christmas at the “Happiest Place on Earth!”
UPDATE: Christmas Tree Trail 2017
I’m happy to report that the 2017 Christmas Tree Trail at Disney Springs will be bigger and better than the 2016 premier, according to an official Disney announcement. Yay… as it was in dire need of improvement!
This year, the Christmas Tree Trail will expand to twenty-five trees. Many of the evergreens will be larger than last year’s trees. There will be ten new trees inspired by Disney classics including Sleeping Beauty, Peter Pan, Snow White, and Dumbo.
Definitely worth a revisit for me!
Sound Off… It’s Your Turn…
What was your favorite tree on the Christmas Tree Trail? What does the “no name” tree represent? While visiting Disney during the holidays, would you take the time to see these trees? Share in the comments below, I’d love to know!
Festival of Trees — Celebrating 30 Years!
The annual Festival of Trees at the Orlando Museum of Art is my go-to event to kick off the holiday season in Central Florida. For those who like to decorate early, it always occurs the week before Thanksgiving, giving the buyers an opportunity to display their creative finds for visiting family and friends while feasting on that fabulous fried turkey dinner.
Each year the Festival has a different theme. The Art of the Holidays was chosen for the 30th anniversary theme of this popular event. It is always presented by the Council of 101, a group of nearly 300 women who volunteer their time and talents to make this holiday tradition possible. They were founded in 1965 with a vision to further the cultural development and education of the visual arts in Central Florida. Their two main fundraisers, Festival of Trees and Antiques Show, provide much needed financial resources for the Museum.
Upwards of 20,000 people visit the Festival of Trees each year. And since it began three decades ago, more than $5 million dollars has been contributed, making it the major fundraiser for the Museum.
How to Purchase a Festival of Trees Item
While strolling through the various venues of the Festival, you’ll notice that each item is accompanied by a sign like the one pictured above. The sign contains an item number, title of the piece, the name of the donor, name of the designer, and a selling price. When an item has been purchased, a red SOLD sticker will be placed on it. Payment for available items should be made at the sales desk in the Council of 101 Grand Gallery. The item may be picked up immediately after the close of the Festival on Sunday, and during the day on Monday. Arrangements for delivery can be made for the larger trees.
Deck the Halls!
There are three main showcase areas for the Festival of Trees — Deck the Halls, Designer Trees and Vignettes, and Gingerbread Village. In the Deck the Halls area you’ll see stunning displays of unique wreaths and small tabletop trees. I love decorating for Christmas, so I’m always impressed by the level of ingenuity expressed here. Clever imagination and originality abound. A wreath is just a wreath, unless it was conceived by one of the inventive designers at Festival of Trees! They’re constantly coming up with innovative new ways of doing them. Some of the resources and materials they use literally blow my mind. Check out a few of my favorites from Deck the Halls…
Designer Trees and Vignettes — Photo Tour
The one-of-a-kind trees, winterscapes, and vignettes offered in this section are truly brilliant. If you don’t come away inspired, you may want to check your pulse! Even if you choose not to purchase a tree, I guarantee your own creative juices will be flowing by the time you get home.
*TIP… Take lots of photos. Keep them in a digital album and refer back to them year after year. Use them as a starting point to create your own holiday masterpiece. Oftentimes you can improvise, using materials and color schemes more conducive to your home decor, and achieve the same outstanding results.
Plan to linger in this area for a while. There’s usually Christmas music playing softly in the background — sometimes via live musicians or choirs. Allow the sights and sounds of the season to seep into your spirit. After all… it is the most wonderful time of the year!
Your nose knows how to find this area! Just follow the sweet and spicy scent of gingerbread. The awesome aroma permeates an entire section of the Museum. Sponsored by Macy’s, each gingerbread masterpiece is created by local culinary artists and available for purchase. Take a moment to notice the remarkable detail in each one. Here’s seven of my favorites from the 30th Annual Festival of Trees…
Entertaining by Design Drawings
One of my hubby’s favorite parts of the Festival of Trees at Orlando Museum of Art is the opportunity to win a spectacular prize. Patrons of the Festival can purchase tickets for the drawings. They’re reasonably priced at $1 each or 25 for $20. There’s a wide variety of donated items — things like Gift Baskets, Gift Certificates for Dinner, Design Consultation, Getaways, Progressive Wine Dinner, Spa Services, Cocktail Party for 20 People, Shopping Spree, Tablescapes, Designer Jewelry, and Decorated Trees. Choose the one’s that interest you and simply deposit a ticket in the container located by each item. Then, wait for your phone to ring after the close of the Festival. We’re still waiting… but hey, it’s for a great cause, right? Check out a few of this year’s drawings…
Toyland Town and Santa Claus
As with any other place that features fragile displays, great caution must be used if choosing to take young children to the Festival of Trees. If you do, be sure to visit Toyland Town, a special area where children can do crafts, play games, and even join in a scavenger hunt. At select times Santa will be present to receive the wish list for all good little girls and boys! Then your little ones can shop-till-they-drop in the Toyland Shop which is filled with kiddie gifts and great stocking stuffers. (Mom and Dad can visit the Festival Boutique for unique grown-up gifts!)
I highly recommend the Reindeer Romp Children’s Party, a specially ticketed evening event that occurs mid-week during the nine day Festival. Entertainment includes Balloon Artists, Storytellers, Comedy Variety Artists, Crayola Experience, Face Painting, Sing-Alongs, StiltFun, Russian Ballet of Orlando, Photo Booth, and Santa Claus himself! It’s a wonderful holiday party for the entire family.
Festival of Trees Special Events
Each year there are special events happening at the Festival of Trees. The Festival opens with a Tree Lighting Reception followed by a Formal Gala that includes Food, Wine and Spirits, Entertainment, and a Silent Auction.
Additional information regarding admission pricing, parking, special event tickets, senior day, entertainment schedule, photos from prior Festival of Trees, and Museum membership can be found on the Orlando Museum of Art website.
31st Annual Festival of Trees
WHEN: November 11-19, 2017
TIME: 10:00 AM – 5:00 PM
PRICE: Adults: $15 | Child (3-11): $5
LOCATION: Orlando Museum of Art – 2416 North Mills Avenue, Orlando, FL 32803
THEME: The Gift Of The Holidays
PURCHASE TICKETS ONLINE: 31st Annual Festival of Trees Tickets
Please Share Your Thoughts
I hope you have been filled with inspiration from the photo tour of the 30th Festival of Trees at the Orlando Museum of Art. Please share your thoughts, ask a question, or simply let me know you have visited today by leaving a reply in the comment section below. Hearing from you is the best part of my day!